Study Links Migraines, Depression in Middle-Age Women

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Middle-age women, beware! If you have a history of migraines, you also face the possibility of developing depression. According to MedlinePlus, a new research study out of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women who had any history of migraines were approximately 40% more likely to develop depression than women who did not suffer from these types of headaches.

    The researchers reviewed data from more than 36,000 women, ages 45 and older, who were part of the U.S. Women’s Health Study. These women did not have depression at the start of the study and had responded to questions about migraine history. These women were then grouped into four groups: no history of migraine; prior history of migraine; active migraine without an aura; and active migraine with aura. Of the total study population, 6,400 of the women said they had a history of migraines or were suffering from these headaches at the start of the study.

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    During the study’s average follow-up period of 14 years, the participants were asked about whether they developed depression. Nearly 4,000 of these women said they had indeed experienced this malady. Although the research findings did not find cause and effect, they did suggest a link between migraines and depression since women who had some type of history of migraines were 36% more likely to develop depression than women with no history of these headaches. In addition, no difference was seen between women who had migraines with aura and those who had migraines without an aura. Furthermore, women who had a history of migraines but no current occurrences had 1.41 times the risk of having depression. Researchers noted that additional study is needed to determine what might be linking these two brain issues.

    Interestingly, the researchers didn’t mention anything about how migraines and depression intersect with these women’s menopause. However, the researchers did note that the study results don’t apply to men or younger women. Furthermore, since the study participants were self-reporting their depression, it could be possible that the number of women who actually were experiencing depression was greater.

    As I mentioned in a sharepost last year,, a project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, reported that some women who are going through menopause find that migraines are triggered for the first time or are worse than those they previous experienced. However, other women have reported that their migraine headaches became less severe and the associated nausea and vomiting actually decreased as they went through this life passage. To prevent migraines, recommends finding out what triggers the attack and then avoiding or limiting these triggers. Also, find ways to limit stress, which often trigger migraines, such as taking a class or exercising.

    Depression also can emerge during this time of a woman’s life. “The drop in estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause triggers physical as well as emotional changes – such as depression or anxiety and changes in memory,” the Cleveland Clinic website states. “Like any other point in a woman’s life, there is a relationship between hormone levels and physical and emotional symptoms.”

  • To cope with depression, the Cleveland Clinic recommends the following:

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    • Adopting a practice such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises to calm yourself.
    • Avoid tranquilizers.
    • Take part in a creative outlet or hobby so that you have a sense of achievement.
    • Remain connected with family members, friends and your community.
    • Seek emotional support from people in your life, including a professional counselor if you need additional help.
    • Find ways to remain cool during hot flashes.
    • Maintain a cool temperature in your bathroom to ease night sweats and to help you remain asleep.
    • Take medicines, vitamins and minerals that are prescribed by your doctor.
    • Eat a healthy diet.
    • Exercise regularly.

    I’ll be very interested in learning more about follow-up studies on this issue to learn whether the hormonal changes of menopause have any effect on middle-age women’s bouts with migraines and depression. Until we hear more, I’d encourage middle-age women who do suffer from both migraines and depression to talk to their doctor and make necessary lifestyle changes in order to get some relief.

Published On: February 29, 2012